by Donna Michaels
Yeah, Lauren would get right on that once her heart dislodged from her throat and her voice returned. She was lucky she even remembered how to breathe with the gorgeous cowboy standing so close that his wonderful, spicy, ocean scent teased her senses.
Trent smiled and gently tugged her hair. “You can’t keep running from this, Lauren.”
She managed to clear her throat and tip her chin. “From what?”
“Us,” he replied. “And what happened when we kissed.”
Oh, that. Yes, she could.
His smiled deepened to reveal those dang, sexy dimples—the ones that made her knees weak. “No, you can’t,” he said as if reading her mind. “And you can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy our kiss.”
She grew up in a disciplined household and learned at an early age to bury her wants and needs in order to achieve success. This was no different.
The elevator opened to her floor. Grabbing Trent’s hand, she freed her hair before releasing him. “I did enjoy the kiss. Very much. But I love working for you and your brothers and will not jeopardize it by mixing work with pleasure. I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”
Without waiting for a reply, she exited the elevator and was relieved when he didn’t follow. It wouldn’t have taken much persuasion on his part to make her change her mind. Her heart sat like a piece of crushed lead in her chest as she let herself into her room.
Why did Trent have to be one of her bosses? She really wanted to pursue the crazy feelings he induced. But she just couldn’t bear to put herself out there only to end up like Sandy.
The vibrating of the cell phone in her pocket signaled an incoming call seconds before the ringing filled her room. Apprehension tightened the muscles in her neck. God, she hoped it wasn’t Trent. Walking away from him had been the hardest thing she’d ever done.
Glancing at the caller ID, she smiled. Sandy. She flopped on her back on the bed. “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself. How’s your weekend with Trent?”
She stiffened. “It’s not like that.”
“Too bad. It should be.”
Lauren sat up and blinked. “What?”
“You heard me. The two of you have been making googly-eyes at each other for years. I thought for sure, once you were alone this weekend, you know, the sparks would fly, clothes would fall, to all a good night.”
“I…” She wanted to set her friend straight and tell her she was wrong.
But Sandy was not exactly wrong, so there was no setting straight.
“Uh oh. Something happened. What is it? Spill.”
Again, the urge to deny was strong. Lauren had even gone so far as to shake her head, but the words wouldn’t form. Instead, she sighed and did as told. “We kissed under the mistletoe.”
“No, it wasn’t sweet. I mean, it was, but…darn it, Sandy. I don’t want to be attracted to him. I don’t want to like his kisses, or enjoy the feel of his arms around me.” Or get lost in his scent; Want his embrace to go on forever.
“Why not? Trent is one of the good guys. And believe me, they are few and far between. The two of you are perfect for each other. You're suited.”
“But he’s my boss.” There, she said it. “I don’t want to end up like y—” She stopped herself, but shouldn’t have bothered.
“Like me, you mean?” Sandy asked. “Oh, hun. Don’t let what happened to me with that jerk two years ago stop you from taking a chance on what could be the real deal with Trent.”
“But what if it isn’t?”
“What if it is?” Her friend countered. “Besides, I do not regret what happened.”
“No. Getting fired was the best thing that happened to me, because I met my fiancé at my next job.”
Lauren inhaled. “You’re engaged?”
“Yes. That’s why I was calling. To tell you Paul proposed.”
“Oh, I’m so happy for you, Sandy. Congratulations. Paul’s a great guy.”
“Yes, he is, and he’s also my boss. Remember?”
She sank onto the bed and blinked. That’s right. Her friend had gotten a new job, and within a half a year, started to date her new boss.
“So, you see? It is possible to keep your job and have a relationship with Trent.”
“Promise me you’ll think about it.”
“I promise.” No way would she be able to think of anything else.
The outdoor holiday gala was in full swing with vendor tents, food stands, face painting, and a visit from the big man himself. Seasonal music blared from speakers placed around the grounds, and families and people walked around with hot apple cider, hot chocolate and coffee, enjoying pumpkin rolls and pecan pie donated by the pretty chef from the Texas Pub up in Harland County.
Everyone was having a great time. Not Trent. Not really. He was going through the motions, even managed to paste a smile on his face as he helped people on and off the Santa-horse wagon while the driver remained on the buckboard seat. Everyone's happy faces and excited banter would normally warm his heart, but the darn thing didn’t seem to be working that day. It was kind of numb and reeling.
He’d foolishly thought once he got Lauren alone and away from the main store she would open up and admit her feelings. Dummy him. Her upbringing had kicked in and kicked him out.
“May I ride next?” A familiar, sweet voice asked from behind.
His pulse kicked into gear. Look at that. His numb heart sparked back to life. He’d seen her today, but hadn’t really talked one-on-one with the woman. What was the point? Even though her gaze had been friendly and smile warm, he didn’t want her to feel badgered, and the invisible bands squeezing his chest did not need more encouragement.
Keeping his smile in place, he turned to face her and blinked. Close up, her gaze was more than warm and friendly. A spark of interest lit those mesmerizing green depths. His heart jerked behind its invisible restraints, and then did something none of the happy people could manage to make it do—warmed at the blush creeping into her cheeks.
“Of course,” he answered, treading lightly, grabbing her hand to help her into the wagon.
Maybe the tightness in his chest prevented oxygen to his brain and he was seeing things he wanted to see.
“Good,” she replied, tugging on his hand when he made to release his hold. “Will you join me?”
His head reeled back. He hadn’t expected that question. He also wasn’t slow on the uptake. “Sure.” He quickly hoisted himself into the wagon and settled next to her on the bench.
As the driver made a clicking noise and urged the horse forward, she snuggled closer, causing his ears to ring and eyes to cross.
He cleared his throat and stared down at her. “Uh, Lauren, not that I’m not enjoying having you close, because I really do, but I’m a little confused. The last time we talked you said you didn’t want to mix business with pleasure.”
She tipped her head and stared up at him, that blush deepening along with her smile. “Let’s forget that talk. It never happened. I was stupid. Scared. Not thinking straight.”
“Now, I’m still stupid and scared, but I know what I want. I’ve thought about it all night.”
His heart rocked so hard in his chest he physically moved. “And what do you want, Lauren?”
“You, Trent,” she replied, heart in her eyes, stealing his breath which had already disappeared at the sweet sound of his name on her lips. “You were right. That kiss was amazing. And I think you’re amazing. I have for some time now.” She held up a hand when he opened his mouth to respond. “I meant it when I said I enjoyed working with you and your brothers. But, again, you were right. I can’t keep running from my feelings.”
Joy and happiness mixed to curve his lips into a grin he couldn’t hold back. “I don’t want to run from mine anymore either, Lauren. I know it’s a risk getting involved with a coworker, but it’s one I’m willing to take. You make me feel things no one has ever made me feel before. And I like it. A lot.”
“Yeah?” Her eyes were big and round and full of wonder.
A thousand watt smile lit her face. “Same goes,” she said, reaching up to cup his chin. “You’re definitely worth the risk.”
And as the Santa-horse wagon ride rolled on, Trent pressed his lips to Lauren’s, sealing a promising future his dad had set into motion nearly a decade ago.
Come back tomorrow for the start of another FREE Holiday story from Alison Henderson! The Rose of Prose will be posting free holiday stories using the same opening line all month long!
Don't forget my brand new release! HARLAND COUNTY CHRISTMAS is a prequel novella to my Amazon Best Selling Harland County Series! Read the first cowboy to fall...